Our first WATER POLO, SA Junior Athlete joins the Fresh and Hungry Series of Interviews, his name is Themba Mthembu. He is one of those who shows so much respect, tradition, determination and passion for his sport, that one has no doubt that he is destined to go very far in the sports arena. As captain of his team his leadership qualities and firm moral grounding clearly comes to the forefront.
Themba says this “I’m the oldest child in my family. I am a passionate Water Polo goalkeeper that is always very keen in learning more about the beautiful sport of Water Polo. I am currently a member of the South African U/20 Water Polo team going to compete in the 18th Fina Junior Men World Championships, taking place in Almaty Kazakhstan from the 4th – 12th of September. I am also in desperate need of funds to pay for this tour as it is self-funded.
I enjoy being with my friends and love listening to good music”.
You are passionate and doing so well in your Water Polo career, tell me a little bit about how you started in Water Polo and your journey in the Water Polo arena up to now?
I grew up quite a chubby kid. I went through a stage in my life where I wanted to try everything, from skateboarding to playing the piano. I got bored from doing some of these things and some of them I just wasn’t good at. One thing I enjoyed was attempting to swim. I then realized that there were ways of enjoying being in the water. In my first year at Parktown Boys’ I was introduced to Water Polo. I fell in love with the sport! I had one this standing in my way, and that was the ability to swim. So I jumped in the deep end of the pool and I did what I saw on TV. Basically I taught myself how to swim. But luckily I was well taught by the quality coaching staff at Parktown Boys on the basics of Water Polo. For that I am very grateful. It then took some dedication to build enough strength. And at the age of fifteen I played for U/15 A team. I then made the Provincial B team that same year. I then progressed to playing in the A team at U/16 level. I was then taken in by my school club PWC (Parktown Water Polo Club). This is where I received an enormous amount of game time, playing games every single weekend, which is needed to improve as a Water Polo player. I then moved to The OJ Eagles Water Polo club. This is where I train with current South African Water Polo players. Through hard work and passion I found my so called ‘calling’ in life.
What is the highest accolade that you have achieved in Water Polo and what is your greatest personal accomplishment?
Currently I have been selected to represent South Africa at the 18th Fina Junior World Championships. I am greatly honored by this and consider this my highest accolade in Water Polo. Honestly my greatest personal accomplishment was being able to lead the Parktown Boys’ 1st Team Water Polo. Knowing the amount of passion, rich tradition and pride that lays in the hearts of old and new boys of Parktown, this was a real honour. Every game I play for my school I play for them.
Do you have any specific regimens or rituals in Water Polo? Maybe a particular diet / training method that can be partially attributed to your success?
I listen to some music, stretch and try to keep a positive mindset.
Do you enjoy offense or defense more?
I enjoy offense because it gives me a break during a game. I’m kidding, I really enjoy defense because I just love being the last line of defense and it gives me a chance to get involved and show what I can do.
How do you find the experience of captain of your team?
It’s a great responsibility. But I love it. Getting the boys pumped before a game or speaking to them after a win or a loss makes my time as a Water Polo player memorable. It gives me a chance to interact with each and every player in the team.
If you have travelled outside SA before, what are you highlights of these travels, and what does travelling do for your mindset/ perspective on things?
It will be my first time travelling outside of South Africa this year in September. This could be in jeopardy because this is a self-funded trip and we are currently in a tough financial position. I would appreciate any form of assistance to make my dream come true.
If you have represented Team SA for Water Polo before, where did you go and how did you experience it?
In 2014 I was a part of the U/19 SA Schools team. We did not go any were but I was pretty happy to be named amongst the best players at the South African Schools Water Polo Tournament.
How do you manage to fit in both sports and academics into your schedule?
It wasn’t really easy at first. It just takes some time management and perseverance.
Beside your Water Polo what do you have a passion for?
I really have a passion for music. I don’t really listen to one type of genre but any song with a really good/catchy bass-line is a winner.
Tell me one thing about yourself that the world does not know?
Andy C (A UK Drum and Bass Dj/Producer) is my One Direction. His music is just really good and all his mix sets are always quality.
Would you like to share a little bit more about your faith journey and how it has affected your life / sports?
Along the way I lost my tracks because dealing with rejection was a bit of a crusher. But my father, being a man of faith, would always remind me of who I am and what I stand for. I would pray before every game for strength and after to give thanks for giving me the opportunity and guidance this far.
What do you do to relax?
On my rest days I will meditate and do some yoga. This helps clear my mind and keep me grounded.
Which athlete/ athletes inspire you?
Etienne and Pierre Le Roux. I am lucky to have been coached by both of these men. They are currently members of the National Water Polo team and are the top two best players in the country. They are amongst the most experienced in the game. They both made the national team at a very young age which is why I look up to them. They manage to get the best out of me as coaches. I am lucky to have met them both.
What is your personal favourite motivational quote?
The more you sweat at practice, the less you bleed in battle – Unknown. This has been my driver in my Water Polo career.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Never ever give up my boy” My dad has told me this every time I wanted to throw in the towel and I think of him saying this every time I feel like I’ve had enough.
Sacrifice is not easy. What grounds you – what becomes your touchstone to remind you that the sacrifice is worth it?
I’ve set goals in my life and I want to achieve them. I understand sacrifice plays a big role on the road to success. I just see them as speed bumps that I eventually get over and keep on moving.
Athletes sometimes hits a hard / difficult patch in their sports career, what goes through your mind at that time? What advice can you give other young athletes in this regard?
I remember when I had trained so hard to make provincials but I wasn’t ready. I was a non-travelling reserve. At that moment in my life I won’t forget I was thinking of moving to another sport. But I would advice that, you should take a rough patch as a way of God testing you. So never give up, if you keep pushing and working hard you will overcome.
When you’ve had a tough / bad day, what lifts you up again?
A little bit of music and a Water Polo training session with my team always brings me joy.
I’m sure you have many things going on right now, what’s to be expected next from you?
I will be playing a lot of Water Polo tournaments in the next couple of months. But the one I’m looking forward to is the 18th Fina Junior World championships, where I will be representing South Africa.
Anything else you would like to share?
Water Polo is slowly making a name for itself in this country. Hopefully more sponsors can get involved and major leagues can be formed in the future.
Thank you so much for taking this interview. We would like to wish you all the best for your sports and academic journey ahead. We look forward to following you as you go from strength to strength. Blessings!
Thank you Cresi for those kinds word and for the recognition.